The trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 has dropped, revealing Maxwell Lord as the film’s apparent big bad, played by The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal. The trailer ends with plenty of unanswered questions – what are Maxwell Lord’s plans? How is Steve Trevor back from the dead? How does Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah fit into all of this? Did Wonder Woman just swing on a bolt of lightning?
All of these questions will have to wait until the film’s summer release, but one question remains – who is Maxwell Lord? Is he really a bad guy or just simply misunderstood? The answer: it’s complicated. the first and most important question most fans will ask is: who is Maxwell Lord? Lord first appeared in the new, relaunched Justice League #1 in 1987. Initially, Lord is depicted as a shrewd and opportunistic businessman who uses the chaos following Crisis on Infinite Earth to revive a new Justice League under his wing. Though occasionally ruthless, most of Lord’s more bloodthirsty actions – such as setting up an ill-fated terrorist for the League to fight – were due to the influence of a mind-controlling computer named Kilg#re that Lord later rebelled against. Once free, Lord remained a shady businessman, though not without occasional bouts of altruism in his character development.
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He gained mind control powers during the Invasion storyline. Lord remained a self-serving but generally noble character, re-teaming with his former Justice League International teammates for two light-hearted series – Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League – both by Justice League writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire.
Maxwell Lord’s characterization takes a far darker turn in 2005’s Countdown to Crisis. There, Lord is retconned as an agent of Checkmate who has been using his insider status within the Justice League to gain information on superhumans he believed to be a threat to the world. His bumbling, self-centered persona was simply a facade to keep Justice League International ineffectual. Lord even murders his own teammate Blue Beetle when the hero begins to uncover his plans. This ultimately led to Lord meeting his end at the hands of Wonder Woman, who snaps his neck after he takes control of Superman, an event that would help set the stage for Infinite Crisis.
Maxwell Lord would eventually be resurrected in the events of Brightest Day. Shortly thereafter, the DC Universe was rebooted as the New 52. Despite the reboot, Lord retained his darker trappings, serving Checkmate as the Black King. He leads a group of supervillains to take down his rival Amanda Waller, but his plan backfires and ends with him incarcerated and likely drafted into Waller’s Task Force X – also known as the Suicide Squad. Given that Infinite Crisis scribe Geoff Johns co-wrote the story and screenplay for Wonder Woman 1984, it’s likely the dangerous and ruthless side of Maxwell Lord will be full display in the sequel.
If Lord’s convoluted history proves anything, however, it’s that the character is neither a supervillain nor misunderstood – it just depends on who is writing him. The good-natured if self-centered Maxwell Lord last seen in I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League appeared the same year as the murderous ideologue Maxwell Lord seen in Countdown to Crisis. While one could simply argue that the former was simply the latter biding his time as a criminal mastermind, the more likely explanation is that Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Geoff Johns had very different interpretations of the character. Whether or not the self-promoting but ultimately good-hearted Maxwell Lord will ever return remains to be seen.
Maxwell Lord probably won’t be misunderstood in Wonder Woman 1984, but given the character’s turn from shady businessman to on-again, off-again hero to anti-hero arch-nemesis, it’s very possible Lord may have another, unexpected arc when Wonder Woman 1984 is released in Summer 2020.
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